10 Immediate Steps to Start Planning for Retirement in Your 40s

By Markets Fool.com

John Lennon once sang, on the cusp of middle age, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" -- a familiar tune for anyone nearing the big 4-0 who's been trying to save money for retirement. Things always seem to get in the way of important savings goals, whether it's hard times, debt, the kids' tuition or even simple procrastination.

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If this sounds like you, you're not alone. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, one in three workers between the ages of 35 and 44 have less than $1,000 saved for retirement. What's more, only a little over half (53%) of all American workers participate in a retirement plan at work, according to 2014 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With retirement planning, time is of the essence -- but it's not too late to start saving if you're far behind. There are a lot of simple ways to build your retirement fund in your 40s and finish with a nice nest egg. Read on for 10 steps to overhaul your retirement plan.

1. Determine your retirement number
Opinions vary on how much money is needed to retire comfortably -- some experts argue that you should be shooting for eight times your ending salary, while others say you should be building toward $1 million.In reality, your retirement savings are very particular to you, so there's not really a one-size-fits-all approach. What's most important is that you determine the exact amount that you'll be saving for so there's no guesswork; then you can start building your plan around that number.

2. Start incrementally increasing your savings
Generally, experts recommend that you save between 10 and 15% of your yearly income for retirement, but that might not actually be enough, especially if you're getting a late start. Start upping the ante: See if you can start socking away 20% from your paycheck alone. If the added financial discipline is hard to muster, set up an external savings account and have a portion of your paycheck automatically deposited there. To increase the amount you take home each month -- and make your income stretch further -- check out these ways to double your paycheck.

3. Save for yourself first
You know those pre-flight safety drills before takeoff? Put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others -- that sentiment holds with finances, too.

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To help others, we must first help ourselves, and that meansputting our retirement savings before other financial responsibilities, like college tuition for your kids. Sound insensitive? It's not about denying your family financial help -- it's merely about prioritization. After all, your kids have a lot of options to pay for their education, such as scholarships, loans, and work-study. You, unfortunately, don't have these resources for retirement.

4. Lower your debt
Tackle any outstanding debt you have and prioritize by starting with high-interest loans first, like credit cards.Seek out alternative solutions if your debt is too large, or it could compromise your retirement. See if you can consolidate your debt in a zero-interest card or low-interest personal loan.

5. Minimize spending
Think about how much frivolous spending can add up over time. Take the $5 you might spend on a latte. If you instead invested it and earned annualized returns of 10% (about the market's long-term average), it would grow to $226 in 40 years -- that's 45 times your original investment. Now imagine how much money you'd miss out on by spending that $5 several times a week -- potentially tens of thousands. Avoid this monetary loss by spending less on items you don't need, like cable or magazine subscriptions, dining out, and shopping. Then pocket the savings in your growing retirement fund.

6. Max out your retirement accounts
Invest through tax-advantaged retirement accounts. If your employer offers a 401(k), contribute at least enough to receive any matching funds you can get. You should also consider investing in a traditional or Roth IRA -- and, if possible, maxing out your allowable contributions. According to the IRS, in 2015 the total amount you can contribute to your IRAs is $5,500 -- or $6,500 if you're aged 50 or older.

What's more, approach other benefits with retirement in mind, too. Your raises, bonuses, cash gifts, and any other windfalls should go straight to your retirement savings, where you won't miss them. And never stop looking for new employment opportunities with great pension programs -- you're only in your 40s, after all.

7. Cut down on major costs
Can you downsize your home or relocate somewhere cheaper? Apart from a lower mortgage, you could also save on property taxes. Put off buying that new car and try to extend the life of your current vehicle; the money you save on an auto loan down payment is instant retirement padding. Stop going on pricey summer vacations and instead take seasonal, affordable road trips with the family -- or go into all-out"staycation" mode.

8. Find income in your insurance
Did you know you can use life insurance for something other than, well, insuring your life? Many Americans are starting to realize they can use their life insurance policies to tap into tax-free income. Sure, withdrawals will lower death benefits, but there may be a point where you don't need to worry about keeping those high.Jim Swink, vice president of Raymond James Insurance Group, put it this way to Investment News: "Say that I buy the insurance policy when I'm in my 30s because I have two young children, but now my son is approaching 40. Do I really need the insurance?"

Talk to your financial advisor about taking out a life insurance policy for this purpose -- or about cashing in if you already have one.

9. Map out your future
Forty is a big milestone, and saving for retirement is a big task, but you still have at least 20 to 25 more career years to go. It's wise not to face them without some financial assistance. Sit down with a financial planner and start building an investment strategy to generate dividends that can't be matched by a simple savings or money market account. Invest wisely, yet aggressively. An advisor will also help you track your net worth; check in frequently to see how your dollars are doing and whether you're staying on target with your retirement number.

10. Delay retirement
Consider working past the standard retirement age if you can. (Don't know what your full retirement age is? Check out this calculator on the Social Security Administration's website.) Working longer and retiring later will allow you to earn more money and delay collection of your Social Security benefits -- which can mean a huge financial boost, because the longer you wait to collect those benefits, the more you'll get. If you start taking Social Security at 70, as opposed to 62, you'll be receiving a monthly payment that's 76% higher. According to Forbes, that could add up to lifetime gains of $250,000 or more.

This article originally appeared on GoBankingRates.com.

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